Searchers plodded methodically Sunday morning through the leaf-strewn mud and dense underbrush in a forested stretch of land in Glenville.
They walked slowly, pushing aside tangles of grapevines and branches, heads down, eyes on the ground, in hopes of finding a clue that could lead to some answers about the disappearance of Craig Frear, a Scotia-Glenville High School student who went missing nine years ago, at the age of 17.
There has been a new development in the case. Click here.
Frear was last seen on a Sunday in June 2004, walking on a footpath toward the railroad tracks by Cambridge Manor in Scotia.
Nearly a decade later, on this cold, dreary Sunday in April, searchers found some bones, but police said that’s typical in a wilderness search; investigators weren’t yet sure whether they were human or animal.
Frear’s mother, Veronica Frear, stood with the search party in the parking lot behind the Price Chopper supermarket on Route 50 and looked at the towering pines beyond, with tears in her eyes.
Although she said she was touched to see approximately 50 members of Northeast Mobile Search and Rescue turn out to comb the woods for clues, she also dreaded the bad news their search had the potential to bring.
“People always say, ‘Closure, you need closure.’ And as much as I search for those answers … I’m scared half to death. I really don’t know if I want the answers, but I know I have to keep looking,” she said.
She described life since her son’s disappearance as a roller coaster ride. There are days when she said she feels mighty and hopeful, and others when it’s the complete opposite.
“You watch your other kids suffer too, terribly, and you don’t know how to patch anything up or how to do anything to make it better for them. How do you make it not hurt so much?” she asked.
Brother takes part
Craig’s older brother, Matthew, was suited up warmly for Sunday’s search, a backpack on his back, a walkie-talkie attached to its strap.
“It’s tough, but it’s positive in that we’re getting a group together and we’re going out, we’re looking, we’re doing something and keeping it an active investigation,” the 30-year-old said of the search.
When he spoke of his brother, he drifted between past- and present-tense: “He was your all-American boy. He was a great athlete, he had lots of friends. He’s very popular; he’s a kind, happy, great person. So we’re hoping to find him, and we’re hoping to find him in that condition.”
The 130- to 140-acre parcel of uninhabited land that stretches behind the commercial properties on the eastern side of Route 50, between Glenridge Road and Maybrook Drive, was chosen as a search site because Craig Frear worked at the Glenville Price Chopper, said state police Investigator Gloria Coppola.
“We’ve searched off the track into wooded areas in other areas of interest but this was never done, and we know it’s an area that’s walked through. However, we want to make sure that there is nothing back there, because it was an area that he was familiar with,” she explained.
State Trooper John Neeley was helping with the search effort Sunday despite a case of pneumonia. He said he chose to brave the cold, damp morning because the endeavor is such an important one.
“I’ve been a police officer for 33 years and a trooper for 30 years and there’s things you don’t let go of,” he explained. “You wake up, sometimes you still smell Manhattan on 9/11; you talk to these families [with missing children] and you feel just a little bit of what they’re feeling and it’s overwhelming.”
Divided into teams
Shortly after 9 a.m., the searchers, most dressed in easy-to-spot bright orange attire, broke into crews, each assigned to search a section of the property.
Ed Davis of Mechanicville led his nine-member team into the dense brush bordering Glenridge Road at the eastern edge of St. Anthony’s Cemetery.
The group spread out in a straight line and one at a time stepped without hesitation into the thick vegetation.
Rudy Tomasik of Ballston Spa, the searcher farthest from the road, secured white twine to a branch where the brush met the cemetery’s lawn, then held the spool above shoulder level and let the twine unspool as he walked, to mark the far edge of the area the team was searching first.
Two bloodhounds rustled through the undergrowth, noses to the ground, although they weren’t specifically there to sniff out clues in the case.
The larger dog, Josie, belongs to Jim Miller of Clifton Park, a member of the Jonesville Fire Department who has participated in search parties for eight years.
“Josie has had several finds herself, some of them good, some of them bad,” he noted.
The canine and human searchers passed by plastic foam cups; a sheet of rumpled, dirty, white plastic; and an empty green plastic flowerpot tipped on its side. They slogged through swampland, constantly scanning the ground.
Retired Mechanicville police officer Steve Barton of Mechanicville was on the lookout for little things.
“I try to think of anything the size of a matchbox,” he said.
Small clues are all the volunteers are likely to find after nine years, Neeley speculated.
“In this kind of a situation, it’s not a race, so they can take their time,” he noted.
By 3:30 p.m., things were starting to wrap up. Neeley had been sent pictures of the bones that searchers found, and their locations were marked. The bones will be brought to the New York State Museum, where anthropologists will determine their origin.